It's a greener shade of green: Britain's first organic golf course

Traditionally they use huge amounts of water and pesticides. But now some clubs are trying to be more eco-friendly

A A A

With their diamond-patterned jumpers, neatly pressed slacks and expensive club memberships, most golfers seem to have little in common with the unwashed eco-warrior brigade. The divide between the two groups is not just sartorial, but stems from the fact that many golf clubs use huge amounts of water, disfigure the landscape and use fertilisers and pesticides to keep their greens lush. However, this gulf may soon be bridged, as a Cambridgeshire club which boasts a full-time ecologist, not to mention a resident stoat at the eighth hole, is poised to become the UK's first organic golf club.

The owners of New Malton Golf Club, an 18-hole course, claim it has been chemical-free for a year, and they plan to apply to the Soil Association for organic certification. The course's out-of bounds areas are home to birds, including woodpeckers, kestrels, owls and pheasants, as well as hares. The owners plan to graze animals on the land, while also growing fruit and lavender.

"We don't use any pesticides and have been 100 per cent chemical-free for a year," said the golf course's co-owner Paul Stevenson. "We get water from the River Cam to water the greens... there will be traces of chemicals in it, but we are hoping to find a bore hole to get around that."

While Mr Stevenson claims the quality of the green is unaffected by his unorthodox approach, which involves using citric acid and sugar in lieu of chemicals, experts have questioned whether it is possible to create a quality golf course without the use of some weedkillers. Courses are often afflicted by various species of Fusarium fungus, which produce white rings on the grass, and are a prime breeding ground for anthracnose, a general term for a wide range of plant diseases especially common on turf that is under repeated stress. Golf professionals point out that the trend for chemical-free golf courses is also being undermined by an opposing trend for ever more luxuriant greens.

"We are fighting a marketing drive trend towards lusher, greener and more manicured courses – stimulating golfers to want to play on what they see on TV," said Jonathan Smith, chief executive of the Golf Environment Organisation. "New Malton is showing important leadership in a sector that already understands the need to minimise pesticide use."

Mr Smith points out that some small clubs in rural areas may already be chemical-free, but are simply not advertising the fact.

New Malton's owners believe that forsaking chemicals has economic as well as ecological benefits, saving tens of thousands of pounds a year. And encouraging stoats keeps the rabbit population down. Rabbits can be a blight on golf courses, as they dig up greens.

Environmentalists also object to the vast tracts of land courses take up, as well as the amount of water needed to keep them properly irrigated. A Unesco World Water Development report found that an 18-hole golf course can use as much as 2.3 million litres of water every day. The protests against Donald Trump's plans to build a £750m luxury golf course on the Aberdeenshire coast are testament to the strength of public feeling.

"In northern Europe, environmentalists are very proactive in trying to limit the development of natural land," said Phil Weaver, chairman of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA). "In the PGA, we're keen to have a more environmental approach to the golf industry. I'm not sure organic is totally achievable, but it is a great aim. But the other side of the coin is the member who pays his subscription wants to see the green out there, not a desert as it's not been watered."

However, there are thought to be 140,000 hectares of out-of-bounds areas on UK courses, which environmentalists believe could be put to good use for wildlife. "Some golf courses contain areas of recognised benefit for wildlife, and those areas should be nurtured," said Paul Wilkinson, who heads A Living Landscape at the Wildlife Trusts. "For this reason, it's important that any new golf courses planned do not impact on locally or nationally important wildlife-rich areas."

While numerous environmental certification systems have been set up to acknowledge golf courses that lead the way in terms of chemical reduction, some owners have argued that it is difficult for them to be recognised as fully organic.

"We've been working that way for several years, and talking to the Soil Association," said Colin Webber of Portmore Golf Park in north Devon. "The first thing I had to get over was their preconceptions that golf courses were covered in chemicals. I hit a lot of brick walls." Mr Webber's aim is to reduce the course's carbon footprint, while making it sustainable and massively reducing chemical use.

The Soil Association points out that for a golf course to attain organic certification, it would have to use organic grass seed and fertiliser, and no pesticides.

"The primary purpose of Soil Association's organic certification is to certify farms, food, health and beauty and textile products, so 'new' potential organic areas such as golf courses may present some challenges," said Molly Conisbee, campaigns and communications director at the Soil Association. "Of course, we want to help any organisation that wants to develop itself along sustainable lines - and it is certainly worth looking at how we can make [golf courses] 'greener'."

Many courses are making great strides, with recycling systems increasingly common, particularly on courses attached to hotels. The three courses at the De Vere Belfry in Warwickshire are irrigated using waste water from the hotel, while the new Machrihanish Dunes course on Scotland's West Coast operates a policy of minimal chemical use.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Asset Finance Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Assistant Marketing & PR Manager

£16 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment